19 November 2007

Brave and Crazy

On Friday I saw Sally's daughter, Sarah in Our Country's Good, a rather nice piece about transportees in 18th century Australia. By "nice," of course, I mean interesting and of theatrical merit, not lacking in unpleasantness.

More and more high schools are doing shows that would never have been seen on a Montgomery County school stage back when I was in high school. I mean, our Alice and Tony (in that standard of G-rated theater You Can't Take It With You) didn't even kiss when they got engaged. They hugged. They hugged the sort of hug that chalk-throwing and ruler-smacking nun would have found unobjectionable.

But Our Country's Good is definitely at least PG-13. Our Country's Good, as the Wikipedia informs us, is a play written in 1988 by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on the novel "The Playmaker" by Thomas Keneally. The play tells the story of convicts and Royal Marines sent to Australia in the late 1780s as part of the first penal colony there. It follows Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark's attempts to put on a production of George Farquhar's restoration comedy "The Recruiting Officer" with a cast of male and female convicts. The play shows the class system in the convict camp and discusses themes such as sexuality, punishment, the Georgian judicial system, and the idea that art can act as an ennobling force.

So once we get past the fact that these kids won't be playing Alice and Tony, the only way to do the play justice is to play it for all it's worth. And they did. There were good performances and some truly excellent performances and the play believes some of the same things that I do about theater.

At their best actors are brave and crazy - willing to do whatever they have to tell the story truthfully - and these well-off American teen-agers were brave enough and crazy enough to find the place where the cruelty and inhumanity of transportation and the humanity of the meanest prisoner live and take those things in to themselves and show them to us. To shine that light that theater can shine on the human condition.

True patriots we, for be it understood,
We left our country for our country's good.

It was lovely.

And how often can you call the daughter of a friend a "vicious little doxy" in front of her mother and have all three of you understand that the phrase was meant in its most complimentary sense?

So in honor of Sarah and her classmates, here is Shel Silverstein's song about Australian history. Mind you, it sounds better than it reads, especially if you hear it in a room full of folks who've had a beer or two and are singing along. That's how I learned it anyway.

Son of a Soundrel (by Shel Silverstein)

Big Barney Fitch, he got soddenly rich
He got a big fancy house in Melbourne
With buckets of loot and big black leather boots
Acting so haughty and well-born

But we of Australia, we're children of convicts
And some of us wear it quite proudly
So as he rides by in his carriage so fine
I wave and I call to him loudly

Was your grandma a whore, was your grandpa a thief
Were they forgers and grafters who fell to their grief
If you're born of Australia, I know who ya be
You're the son of a son of a scoundrel like me

Maggie McKay's got a sweet-lovin' way
And I know that she does adore me
But her parents, they feel it would be a bad deal
They say that she's much too good for me

So as we said goodbye, with a tear in her eye
They were smiling and glad of the breakin'
But they didn't look so proud when I shouted out loud
'Til the whole floggin' town was awakened


Madam Marie loves the men from the sea
She says that they're good for business
Her daughters are found in a section of town
Known for a certain rudeness

Then the cops paid a call, and the judge says, "That's all
It's time for a new profession"
Marie laughed out loud, and in front of the crowd
Says, "Judge, will you answer this question"



Maureen said...

I didn't know that Shel Silverstein piece; thanks for posting it. And just a week or two ago, I got to enlighten a colleague on that little bit of history (we were discussing the educational benefits of working w/ Aussies & Brits). He was surprised when I explained why, in "The Wrath of Khan", the penal ship was called the Botany Bay. I could tell he was filing that little factoid away for a future bar trivia quiz or some such event.

Sally said...

Sarah and I really enjoyed your comments about the show. Sarah worked hard to find her "inner doxie" I don't think she liked the character very much and I think this was true of some of the other actors. What impressed most about that production was the true ensemble nature of their collective work. It was a lovely piece of theater because they all worked together to make it so.

And when that happens, and it doesn't always, it's theatrical magic.